You let them conversate with their mothers in Iraq, next thing you know there's a school shooting

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Via Drudge: Sgt. 1st Class Monique Bates, on duty in Iraq, calls her 17-year-old son on his cell phone during his school lunch break. A teacher passing by sees the touching scene, and does what any public employee would do: tries to grab the kid, cuts off the phone call, confiscates the phone, takes him to the office, doesn't let the kid take a call back from his mother, then—in what the school's vice-principal characterizes as an act of leniency—only gives him a ten-day suspension. Lucky for everybody, the V-P also has above-average language skills:

"They are really allowed to have those cell phones so that after band or after chorus or after the debate and practices are over they have to coordinate with the parents," said Alfred Parham, assistant principal at Spencer. "They're not supposed to use them for conversating back and forth during school because if they were allowed to do that, they could be text messaging each other for test questions."

Whole sad tale here.

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  1. “They’re not supposed to use them for conversating back and forth during school because if they were allowed to do that, they could be text messaging each other for test questions.”

    Then don’t allow them to use the phones during exams.

  2. if kids get to talk to parents (who may die before ever seeing thier child again), during school hours, the terrorists have won.

  3. I guess when Mom volunteered she didn’t realize that her kid had been conscripted into a pretty tough outfit, too.

    BTW, I think the educrats learn to conversate like that in Ed School. They get orientated to a modality of professional stylization, vocabularization-wise.

    Kevin

  4. The school has already caved and reduced it to time served.

    http://www.washtimes.com/national/20050508-120535-2177r.htm

  5. I’ll call it settled when the school apologizes for being assmonkeys.

  6. Glad you picked up on that! I actually e-mailed the school yesterday to mock the assistant principal for using the word “conversating.”

    Once again, as always, the solution is TO GET RID OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS. Things are just never going to go well in a scenario where some facade of equality must be erected at the expense of liberty. Get the government out of schools, and all the problems caused by government running schools will vanish. It’s like… magic!

    If government absolutely has to be involved in Educating The Children, the best idea is to just send kids to the library every day and let them learn what they want on their own. That’s the only way people learn things anyway, unless it’s some hands-on thing like shop class or the photo club. A classroom setting is a massive waste of time for all involved.

    I hated school when I was in it, and I hate school even more now that money gets swiped from my paycheck every week to pay for the “education” of others’ kids.

  7. “Things are just never going to go well in a scenario where some facade of equality must be erected at the expense of liberty.”

    So much for the armed forces.

  8. Once again, as always, the solution is TO GET RID OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

    But if you did that only rich children would be edumacated, like what happened in the old days.

    Don’t you remember the bad old days before compulsary child feeding and the establisment of public feeding centers where rich parents could get the same nutrition opportunities for their children as the rich. Only rich children escaped death by starvation in those dark times.

    And don’t forget that before The No Child left Barefoot Act poor children went without shoes. Experts know that all 8-year-olds need identical 3rd Grade shoes. You’re probably one of those elitists who thinks children might have different footwear needs. If we allow children to have different shoes to match the differences in their foot sizes we will have failed to properly socialize the young feet of the nation.

  9. egalitarian bob you are correct those were bad times, kind of like the dark days before the patriot act. We need to slowly eliminate this taxpayer funded education. Remember free speach has no place in schools, students can’t read a bible or speak about politics many times because someone might be offended.

  10. SP:

    Why is it the fault of The Government that this happened, and not the individuals who created the policy in the first place? Or the Assistant Principal for the way he enforced it?

  11. JonBuck-
    At the risk of answering for SP, I’d say it’s because this sort of thing seems to happen at EVERY DAMNED PUBLIC SCHOOL IN THE COUNTRY. I used to be a fervent supporter of public schools until I wasted three years of life teaching at one.

    However, if we can’t eradicate public schools I’d settle for absolute, across-the-board school choice. Make the schools compete for students like every other business must compete for customers.

  12. School vouchers I can tentatively support. The total abolishment of public education, no. Without them, I would have no education at all.

  13. At the risk of answering for SP, I’d say it’s because this sort of thing seems to happen at EVERY DAMNED PUBLIC SCHOOL IN THE COUNTRY. I used to be a fervent supporter of public schools until I wasted three years of life teaching at one.

    However, if we can’t eradicate public schools I’d settle for absolute, across-the-board school choice. Make the schools compete for students like every other business must compete for customers.

    I think Jennifer’s lying. Nobody could work for three years at a public school and still talk like a human being.

    /Just kidding.

  14. Job-
    Your parents would not have taught you how to read? You would not have read books? You were, as a child, so lacking in intellectual curiosity that you wouldn’t have learned about the world around you if the government didn’t force you to do so?

    I know a whole heap of stuff on a variety of topics, and it’s all stuff I read on my own. Here, by contrast, is what I learned in school that I would NOT have otherwise learned on my own:

    1. Mathematicians use something called the “quadratic equation.”
    2. If you take ONE PUFF off of a joint you’ll be hooked for life and become a drug whore.
    3. The flag of Brazil is green.

    Yeah, that’s worth maintaining a bureaucracy for.

  15. That last post was supposed to be addressed to “Jon,” not “Job.”

  16. Jennifer, you rock.

  17. Your parents would not have taught you how to read? You would not have read books?

    I don’t know about your parents, Jennifer, but both of mine had to work in order to afford to feed me and my siblings and send us to college, and really didn’t have the time to teach each of us reading, writing, spelling, math, history, economics, science, and calculus in their spare time. Nor would all of us have learned these things just by being dumped in a library and told to figure it out on our own. There’s a reason why classrooms are used in private education, too.

    How this incident demonstrates the need to end public education is utterly beyond me. When Catholic school teachers do stupid things in Catholic schools, does this demonstrate that religious schooling should be abolished? No, because that would be pretty damn stupid.

  18. Jennifer, do you imagine that there are no parents who would not teach their children to read? And do you believe there are others who would be far more willing than able to do a good job of teaching reading?

    What makes you so certain you would have learned the multiplication tables on your own if you had not learned them in school?

    Try this thought experiment: a country which offers public education for boys, but not girls. Do you think that the girls are better off, and better educated?

  19. Jennifer:

    My own personal experience and personality is not the issue. The issue is whether educating children is part of the proper role of government. At the state level, I believe it is. So do the vast majority of voters. I don’t deny that the system is flawed. Show me a human institition that isn’t. However, we can’t just throw it all away without some kind of system in place to take up the slack.

    Vouchers repersent a good compromise.

  20. Iron Lungfish-

    I’ll admit, my parents never actually “taught” me how to read either, but I did have grownups to read books to me, and I just sort of “picked up” the knowledge of reading. Same way I just “picked up” English, even though nobody ever actually taught me how to talk.

    Yes, without public schools there are some kids who would grow up in utter ignorance because of their parents. But guess what? That ignorance isn’t being eradicated at our public schools; I had kids in my twelfth-grade classes who were dumb as rocks and couldn’t read much past a fifth-grade level, but they were shoved through anyway. And all of these kids grew up with parents who looked down on “book learnin’.”

    These kids didn’t pick up much knowledge in school; if anything, they were so disruptive that they made it impossible for anybody else to learn anything.

    But you know what? It only took me a few weeks of teaching to discover something–many of these kids who couldn’t pronounce a single word of Robert Frost were perfectly capable of reading other books I’d loan them, kid’s books with titles like “How Machines Work” or “How Big Things are Built.” Their already-poor reading skills were made worse by being forced to choke down boring archaic crap they didn’t care about, but improved when they’d read extracurricular stuff on topics they actually CARED about.

    Maybe you’re right that we need public education, but we damn sure don’t need the current, mandatory “one size fits all” model. And if we had to choose between that or nothing, more kids would be better off than they are today if we went with “nothing.”

  21. School days are the unhappiest in the whole span if human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, with brutal violations of common sense and common decency.
    — H.L. Mencken

  22. Jennifer, you can’t have it both ways. You claim the kids who couldn’t read much past fifth grade level in twelfth grade were “dumb as rocks” and universally the children of parents who disdained education.

    Then their reading skills “improved when they’d read extracurricular stuff on topics they actually CARED about.” So were they really dumb as rocks to begin with, or just the victims of poor educational practices, like having to read “archaic crap” such as Robert Frost? (By the way–did this actually cause their reading skills to decline, as you suggest, or just diminish the chances they would use the limited skills they had?)

    You write often and with authority about the many shortcomings of the public education system, but have you ever considered the possibility that part of the problem your students faced is that you weren’t a very good teacher?

  23. Public schools? Pshaaw! I say, back to the coal mines with the little buggers!

  24. parse,

    I just hope Jennifer waits till I have a bag of popcorn ready before she responds… 😀

  25. ObSimpsonsRef:

    There’s nothing wrong with ‘conversating’. It’s a perfectly cromulent word!

  26. So the argument FOR public schools is that without them poor kids wouldn’t get an education? Fine, call it educational welfare and fund it for only those children whose parents qualify for it.

    That way the taxes for an entire socialized education system is only for the small number of kids whose parents don’t make enough money.

  27. Then their reading skills “improved when they’d read extracurricular stuff on topics they actually CARED about.” So were they really dumb as rocks to begin with, or just the victims of poor educational practices, like having to read “archaic crap” such as Robert Frost? (By the way–did this actually cause their reading skills to decline, as you suggest, or just diminish the chances they would use the limited skills they had?)

    Fergit it, pal. Public schools are not giving at least half their student body reading materials that they’d find remotely interesting. It doesn’t take a two-time NY Teacher of the Year to tell you that that kind of curriculum is by design, one intended to produce reliable little bureaucrats and retail wage slaves, or wards of the prison system.

    In that kind of learning environment, a good teacher is one who sucks up to the administrator, teaches to the test and otherwise keeps quiet.

    Good luck with your new career in administration; you’re obviously highly qualified.

  28. Err, John Taylor Gatto’s the teacher-of-the year who speaks, writes and films on this subject at length; guess I know nothing about web coding.

  29. Parse, and others-
    In addition to the problems John Taylor Gatto has already discussed (thanks for saving me the trouble, Some Dropout) there is the fact that schools are based on the assumption that all students should be educated at the same rate and level. Those who are too smart waste their time with concepts far beneath them, while those who are beneath mediocre waste their days in frustration guaranteed to make them feel dumber than they are. Only the mediocre thrive under the current system, and even then just barely.

    But get this: my first year of teaching I had what was euphemistically called the “low-level” twelfth-grade class, the ones one step above Special Ed. In theory we were training them to prepare for the “community college education track,” but in reality most of them would never have any formal education after high school.

    I had this one kid whom I’ll call “Jim.” Sweet kid, tried hard, but he simply wasn’t book-smart. If he wrote a letter you’d understand what he was talking about, but the spelling, grammar and punctuation errors would make it obvious writing wasn’t his element.

    But he was pretty good at mechanical stuff; he wanted to be a mechanic or repairman after he graduated, and I have no doubt he’d do very well and enjoy his job. But he couldn’t land such jobs unless he first got his high-school diploma, and he couldn’t get that diploma unless he did he bullshit demanded by the curriculum, like discerning the symbolism is “The Road Not Taken” or the social commentary in “Death of a Hired Man.”

    At the end of the year I added a few points to his score so he would have a D-minus, graduate with his diploma and get his mechanic job. (Meanwhile, I was also forced to give passing grades to “college-bound” lunkheads, but that’s another story.)

    According to the standards of the curriculum I did something dishonest and hateful, but I think what’s really dishonest and hateful is a system which, among a thousand other flaws, tells a kid “We won’t let you get any decent job without a high-school diploma, and we won’t give you that diploma unless you meet a lot of truly bullshit criteria.” So I let him get on with his life.

  30. Jennifer,

    Wow, the public school system’s tentacles must indeed reach far and wide. They force employers to require diplomas?

    While I can understand your motivations for fudging this guy’s grade, it’s still a pretty despicable act imho. What about all the other potential mechanics who had similar problems in school, but had the misfortune of having honest teachers? Is it fair to them that you gave this one a free pass?

  31. Gee, whenever the administrations or teachers at the private, Catholic schools I attended did anything stupid, my folks could always transfer us to another institution. If we had been placed in public schools, my parents only would have saved a large amount of money! There might even have been a few disciplines – foreign language, music, science – where the school district had better offerings than the local Catholic schools. Maybe my siblings and I just put up with different crap than my friends in the state’s schools, but at least it was crap that my family had chosen to endure.

    BTW, my Dad taught, coached and administered in the government schools for better than 30 years, and he was constantly frustrated over the garbage he had to put up with. Over the period he taught – late 40s to mid-70s – the ability of a teacher to control his class was progressively diminished, either from increased control over curriculum choices, or from the reduction in discipline options the classroom teacher had at his disposal. Of course, over that same period the teachers’ unions got strong, and Pop’s salary was able to keep up with the ravening fiscal maw that was his rather large family, something that would have been impossible if he had ditched his tax-supported job and caught on with a private outfit.

    Those who oppose school privatization, fearing that the educational world would end, ignore the possibility that school choice/vouchers could be used as a transition to a non-state system. The teachers’ unions sometimes even fight against charter schools, which are also governmental operations, if differently managed than normal district schools.

    Kevin

  32. Jennifer, the anecdote about Jim doesn’t answer any of the questions I posed about your earlier message. And I’ve read enough of Gatto’s book to wonder what he’d say about a teacher who reported that many of her students were “dumb as rocks.”

    Again, I don’t question your assertion that public education in the United States is deeply flawed. I’m not sure though, how you go from there to the conclusion that we’d be better off with no public education at all (and, in fact, nothing but individuals educating themselves with whatever help their parents and the neighborhood library might give them).

    Finally, I spent four years teaching inmates in a medium security correctional facility who were working toward their GED. The notion that a kid who just wasn’t particularly “book smart” couldn’t earn a high-school diploma without his teacher cheating for him (and couldn’t enjoy poetry, or understand the social commentary in Frost’s verse) is contrary to my own anecdotal experience.

  33. Kevin, Jennifer’s opposition to public education seems to go way beyond goverment education to include private schools–which while private in the sense they are owned by individuals or corporation, offer public education in that it consists of groups of people being taught together. Jennifer wants kids to teach themselves in libraries once their parents have given them rudimentary instruction in reading.

  34. If private school vouchers were really a transition to a free market education system I’d be all in favor of them.

    Hey, does anybody remember “No Child Left Behind”? Lots of accountability and incentives for performance and flexibility for parents? How’s that working out? Last I heard it has mostly just increased the federal government’s role in the education system.

    I fear that school vouchers would be used to give bureaucrats more control over private schools, rather than to wean us off the bureaucrats. No thanks.

    Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t vote for the Democrat in 2000. Otherwise he totally would have done something to give DC more authority over local schools.

    Oh, wait.

  35. Crimethink-
    So you’re saying that if one kid is forced to meet artificial sandards, all of them should?

  36. thoreau: Good point. If state money goes to private schools, they would justifiably feel that they should have some control over the cirriculum.

  37. JonBuck-

    Exactly. One need only look at the amount of regulations that private colleges have to comply with for their students to be able to receive federal financial aid.

  38. Parse-
    No, I’m no saying that these kids are necessarily incapable of learning, but a lot of them don’t want to learn. At least not just yet. What’s hard about believing that not all kids mature at the same rate? While I chose to give a passing grade to “Jim,” I was at the same time forced to give passing grades to the “college-bound” who didn’t deserve them, and went on to become the type of student who makes remedial reading a college-level course.

    With a few rare exceptions, public schools are places to train kids to accept authority, while making sure they don’t have the skills necessary to question it.

    My classroom was on the third floor, in the stairwell (rather than in the hallways proper). I didn’t know, at first, that in the basement below my room was the hard-core special ed room, until one day, teaching a class with the door open, I heard some horrible grunts coming down below, sounding exactly like someone in great pain. So I flew down the stairs, only to discover the special-ed room filled with kids so severely retarded they didn’t even have the ability to verbalize.

    In the town where I taught, fully FIFTY-TWO PERCENT of all property taxes went to pay for the public schools, which didn’t have enough money for proper textbooks for my honors students, and shoved kids through the social promotion system because they couldn’t afford to hold any kid back for more than two years out of the twelve in the sysem, and meanwhile the school was forced by federal law to provide “education” to kids missing so much of their cerebellum that they couldn’t learn how to talk, or even to keep their mouth shut so they wouldn’t drool on themselves. When I was in the process of getting my techer’s certificate in Connecticut (which paid far more than Massachusetts, where I’d previously taught,) I gave up after discovering that I could get a provisional certificate, but could only be full-time afer taking a class with a title like “Mainstreaming Special Ed Students in Regular Classrooms.” Fuck THAT; I threw away all my teacher paperwork right then.

    THAT is what the modern public schools teach–that all kids are equal. Not equal in the eyes of the law, but EQUAL. I remember one course I took my second year of teaching, where I heard the following gems:

    “When it comes to student achievement, ability doesn’t matter; effort does.” (It’s true that a kid with ability can fail through lack of effort, but this does NOT always work in reverse. I’m five-three and weigh 106 pounds; could I become a professional quarterback if I just made enough effort? No.)

    “Kids should be given as much time as they need to finish their assignments; it doesn’t matter how much time you need to complete a job, so long as you can do it.” (Next week I start a new job with an ad agency; if I’m ever in danger of missing a deadline I’ll try that line and see how many nanoseconds it takes for me to get fired.)

    And my favorite: “There are no failing students, only failing teachers.” That’s right; seventeen-year-olds don’t need to make an effort to educate themselves; they’re just passive vessels we teachers fill with the water of knowledge, same way bartenders pour beer in glasses with no help from the glass.

    But you know, I misspoke before. I’m not actually opposed to public education; I’m opposed to mandatory one-size-fits all education. Half of my students didn’t want to learn anything, and the other half could have learned far more than the curriculum would allow me to teach.

  39. Well, really, the main problem is attracting and retaining competent, dedicated teachers and weeding out incompetent, lazy ones. We could start by abolishing schools of education and undergraduate degrees in education and require that all public school teachers have real degrees in real subjects from real colleges and universities. Next, we could cut administrative posts at public schools by at least 50% and use the money to pay for more teachers. After that, we could give qualified teachers more freedom to teach as they see fit and then hold them accountable for the results. If kids don’t improve or maintain a high level of achievement, then give teacher the boot. For ghetto schools, we could take a page from the military and offer “hazardous duty pay” (e.g., a 50% hike in salary) to those tough, talented teachers who wanted to take on the extra challenge. Lastly, we could abolish the teachers’ union, which has degenerated into nothing more than a featherbedding racket for lazy, incompetent boobs.

    Anyway, them’s my two cents.

  40. Hear hear, Joe. And let me state for the record that my degrees are NOT in Education, but in English (the subject I taught). I snuck in the back door of teaching by taking and passing the teacher’s test in Massachusetts.

  41. I don’t think this is about private/vs/public schools, or the Big Bad Government. Why does everything have to be about left and right?

    The problem is simple. As a society, we’ve forgotten what to do with children. Nobody really knows how to treat them or what to do with them. Maybe people used to know what to do with kids, but times have changed. There are less employment opportunities, and those there are have become lower-paying and/or more specialized.

    What can be done with children? Can they be put to work? Not anymore. Married off? Good lord no, they’ll reproduce. Can they just live the same as adults? Not really. Life has grown harder, the rules have twisted tighter. 100 years ago a 16-year old could own a farm and support a family. Today, that 16-year old cannot even get a unrestricted drivers license in most states. In fact, that probably makes sense – he probably hasn’t been allowed in the front car seat for more than a couple years anyway, thanks to the bombs we all have installed in our dashboards. How can he live a normal life? There is no room for him. No jobs, no place to live – a house for him costs 5 times more than it would have for his grandfather, not in phony paper dollars, but in GOLD! – he’s got to be put off somewhere.

    And a younger child must be tended to every minute of every day. No more leaving the kids at home! The police in most jurisdictions will not even tell a parent how old a child has to be to be left alone, they won’t admit any margin of safety – all they’ll say is that they don’t want to hear of any trouble, and if they do prosecutions will happen, so make your best guess. Why? Because we, as a society, have developed a mania for prosecution of each other, not just “torts” but a million random new crimes. And god forbid the kid goes out alone, god forbid the cop sees him/her walking to the store to buy groceries like a normal useful person, what if a predator sees him, better throw that parent in jail! Kids are more of a burden than ever before, economicically as well, and this is not a market issue, it is a societal issue.

    And so we can’t afford the children. And we can’t do right by them, everything we might do is wrong. and they might turn out dangerous. So we fear them.

    Nobody knows how to mold a child, they just want them to fade away into the background. At home, a 11-year old child cannot be slapped by her mother, her mother who is a head shorter than her and who can easily be lifted by her own child off of the ground, or she goes to school and tells the principal about how she got slapped and also how her stepdad’s friends smoke marijuana in the basement. And the schools reports it, because the law says they have to. And CPS comes by, goes through the motions, knowing and writing in the report that this is just a bratty out-of-control kid – and then eventually closes the file, but now the kid knows she can’t be disciplined at home. And when she brats up in school, she just gets suspended, the school doesn’t do anything to her because they fear the law – they just send her home. Nobody is allowed to lay a finger on little bratling but for the police – and so someday, she will smart off in class and be dragged off by the cops, kicking and screaming and being tasered and being teargassed, because nobody has the guts to do anything else, because as a society we have all created a fear of children, because as a society we have no use for them.

    We fear that impudent child talking to his mother on a phone, because he doesn’t know his place, the place society wants to subjugate him into – so we throw the book at him, cause if we were “reasonable” just this once where might it lead? It gets tougher every day. I remember when children who had romantic activities with each other were not prosecuted for mutual statuatory. Well, that was a long time ago, people are even more scared of kids now. Because they want to do normal things like get married, drive a car, or talk on a telephone. And, given the ever-shrinking labor market, the ever-increasing economic scarcity of niches to place them into, any attempt at acting grown up by a 16- or 17- or even 18-year old is a threat to all society. We run scared of our own children, and overreact.

    Schools are a symptom of society, not a problem. Bringing some market-worship here won’t help. It’s like building a runway on a jungle island to make the cargo planes land. There haven’t been cargo planes for a while, we need to figure out why. But we don’t, we just do more and more and more of the same old same old, every day more intense.

  42. Jennifer-

    A beloved little cousin of mine is like those kids that you described, and I cannot think of any good reason to have him in a high school. He has benefited from the help of his teachers (he’s almost 11), but there’s very little reason why his needs should be handled by the same system that educates other children. This critique would hold true whether education were publicly or privately funded, since his needs and the needs of other kids are like apples and oranges.

  43. i remember listening to two high school girls on the six train argue over whether the holocaust caused WWII and whether the germans or the americans bombed pearl harbor.

    good stuff.

  44. If government schooling were deregulated and privatized, what could replace it? Let’s tick off some alternatives:

    ? Traditionally organized private schools.

    ? Private schools run on some alternate principles, such as Montessori, Waldorf and even military academies.

    ? Home schooling. A fully deregulated education market would liberalize home schools, so that parents could more easily hire, either individually or in groups, experts to instruct their children in subjects they don’t feel competent to teach.

    ? The return of apprenticeships.

    In my state, Wisconsin, we already have these legal choices:

    ? Plain vanilla “publik skoolz”.

    ? Charter schools, another flavor of government school. Some of these are quite good.

    ? “Chapter 220” enrollment: a voluntary program where “minority” students can enroll out-of-district in schools with few “minority” pupils. Suburban kids can enroll in the Milwaukee district, usually to get access to programs the `burbs don’t have. (Example: High School of the Arts) Of course, under current rules, the “Ch. 220” kids come with extra state aid attached, to encourage desegregation, and free transportation, aka busing.

    ? Statewide open enrollment.

    ? Telelearning, including an online academy run by the Waukesha schools, but open to all.

    ? Private schooling of all types. Most of it is religious, some of it is not. Many of the private schools in the City of Milwaukee accept students from the state-funded Choice Program, which has family income limits and a cap on student participation. From the standpoint of parent satisfaction the program is very successful. Some fly-by-night schools have been closed down, but at least such operations can be busted. Bad government schools just keep on trucking.

    I’m sure there are other paradigms out there waiting to be tried, but the inertia of the dominant system does serve several interest groups, even if the students aren’t helped.

    Kevin

  45. You know, even being a free-marketer and a libertarian, I’m glad I’m not a moron like, say, sam, above. I’ll leave it to him to check into the average education levels in capitalist paradises like Somalia. Or even during our own nation’s relatively unfettered period of capitalist heaven, like the 1890s. Yep, we were sure breeding a nation of super-geniuses then. Most of whom could barely read, but still. They were happy in their factory jobs at age 13, and isn’t that what really matters?

    Jennifer’s arguments, by the way, are not arguments for eliminating public schooling per se. They’re arguments for bettering the ways in which we educate different groups of children in different ways, and for providing alternate paths to success, like apprenticeship programs. (Think how much better off her future mechanic would have been with something like that.)

  46. Fun story from yesterday’s Boston Globe, courtesy of FARK: A student who took AP Biology instead of gym will not be getting her diploma. Hmmph. How DARE that slut think she could learn more about the world around her, when the Powers That Be decided she needed to run laps around a gym instead! Where the hell did she get the idea that high school was about intellectual development, anyway?

    http://www.boston.com/news/local/new_hampshire/articles/2005/05/08/teen_skips_gym_loses_diploma/

  47. Phil sayeth,

    “Jennifer’s arguments, by the way, are not arguments for eliminating public schooling per se. They’re arguments for bettering the ways in which we educate different groups of children in different ways, and for providing alternate paths to success, like apprenticeship programs.”

    Except that these problems are enmeshed in “public” schooling, or “public” anything. When you remove the power of capitalist competition and the free market from something that could truly benefit from it, then,sure, you can come up with various central-planning solutions such as “alternate paths to success” or “apprenticeship programs”, but the fact remains that, without the power of an unfettered competitive marketplace, its true potential won’t be realized. This is not to say that I am a newly-indoctrinated “blind faith in capitalism” anarchocapitalist like Sam, but, I do know that when the government forcibly creates and maintains a monopoly over something, then no amount of central planning will ever match the power of a competitive market.

  48. Oh, I think special education students have every right to be in our high schools. Not every special education student should be in a mainstream classroom, but the results of special education in improving the lives of kids with disabilities have been astounding. I have two cousins with Down syndrome, for example, one is older before schools provided any services. He lived with his parents on their farm his entire life, never learned to read or write or do math, not because he was incapable but because the schools would not allow him to attend because he was retarded and his parents were incapable of teaching him at home. He has been dependent his entire life. My other cousin with the same impairment was born in 1975, however. She’s had special education services from the time she was born. She reads, writes, holds a full-time job and a volunteer job, her own apartment, a relatively average life.

    Before 1975, U.S. schools educated only one in five children with disabilities, and many states had laws excluding certain students, including children who were deaf, blind, emotionally disturbed, or mentally retarded. Today, kids are supposed to be educated in the least restrictive environment. For some, that means spending part of the day in regular classrooms. For some, that means spending all day in regular classrooms. Many, like the severely brain-damaged, spend most of the day in their special programs. Special education is the area of education most likely to offer individualized instruction to students. It’s not perfectly implemented and severey underfunded, but it’s helped millions of kids with varying levels of disabilities. Why people think these students should be segregated from the rest of society and shunted off where no one will ever see them is beyond me.

  49. Serafina-
    I can’t speak for all special-ed students, but the kids in the basement below me cost the school district about $30,000 per year each–one special ed teacher for five students, plus each student has two or three individual aides to help accomplish things like getting the kid to walk down the hall without walking into the wall. I’m not saying such kids should be tossed on the trash heap of humanity, but it is INSANE to cling to the fiction that these microcephalic people can become intellectual, fully-functioning adults if we just spend enough money on them. Rather than spend $30,000 per year for twelve years, how much better if we’d spent, say $15,000 per year on adding money to an iorrevocable trust to take care of these kids, since they’re obviously incapable of caring for themselves.

  50. No one clings to the fiction that these kids will ever be fully functioning adults, Jennifer, except maybe some pencil-heads in DC or the state capitals who ludicrously insist they be given the same standardized tests as every other student. Some kids cost more to provide education for that other kids. If we had a truly differentiated system of the kind that many people here are advocating for, that would continue to be true.

  51. Jennifer wrote: “While I chose to give a passing grade to “Jim,” I was at the same time forced to give passing grades to the “college-bound” who didn’t deserve them, and went on to become the type of student who makes remedial reading a college-level course.”

    From what I understand of your story, Jim, judged by the same standard as the college-bound students, didn’t deserve the passing grade either. So giving grades based on creating a desired result, rather than on some objective standard, is a heroic act of resistance when Jennifer chooses to do it but symptomatic of the rot of public education when her employers require her to do it.

  52. Parse-
    No, it’s just that I can see the difference between requiring advanced reading skills from a future mechanic, and requiring them from a student who plans to attend a four-year university. And it is inherently dishonest for the superintendent to require me to give a grade of ‘C’ to a student who did NOTHING all year, lest he lose his athletic scholarship.

  53. I know a guy who was the stud on the football team in high school. He was so important to the success of the team, he was passed along until he graduated. Then he had to learn to read to survive in the real world.

  54. Twba-
    At my school it was soccer, not football, but yes, same thing. If a kid was vital to the team then woe unto any teacher who tried to fail him.

  55. No one clings to the fiction that these kids will ever be fully functioning adults, Jennifer, except maybe some pencil-heads in DC or the state capitals who ludicrously insist they be given the same standardized tests as every other student.

    Don’t forget the kids’ parents.

  56. At the risk of being on topic, am I the only one who believes that the kid deserved to be punished? I don’t think that it is unreasonable to require students to turn their phones off during school and to ban them from talking on the phones. So what if his mom is in Iraq; lots of other students have families in stressful situations and are also expected not to talk on the phone to them.

  57. All the people who object to eliminating public schools, not only for this reason but for many others, need to remember that society will naturally evolve when it is allowed to. Getting rid of public schools would create a void, yes, but IT WOULD BE FILLED, and I imagine fairly quickly & efficiently.

    Already in areas where many people homeschool (mostly areas with a large proportion of religious fundamentalists, admittedly) there are cooperatives in place to aid homeschooling parents in providing them with support/ideas/supplies and their children with the ability to socialize in sports etc.

    Obviously there would be a lot of out-of-work teachers who would want to do SOMETHING, but this time they’d actually have to convince PARENTS that they have a clue, because that’s how the market works. The good ones would do this; the bad ones would seek work in another field.

  58. From reading about this situation some more I have a theory I’d like to share. Be warned: This is total speculation.

    The kid in question apparently has been problematic in the past. Even by his own admission, he’s not exactly a model student.

    I think that when the kid got the call from his mom and then saw that a teacher was going to give him grief about said call, the kid saw a perfect opportunity to make the teacher look like a fool. The kid succeeded of course. The teacher was outplayed and outsmarted. Why? Because the teacher could not believe that the kid could be in the right.

    The teacher had only one move, the zero-tolerance/no-thinking move. So, the kid outsmarted the teacher, causing a PR nightmare for the school. The kid looks like a hero and the teacher looks like a dumbass. When in fact, the kid (even though he was in the right) was actually being a punk. The teacher was a dumbass regardless, of course.

  59. “there is the fact that schools are based on the assumption that all students should be educated at the same rate and level.”

    Funny, when I went to school we had advanced placement classes for the bright ones, level q classes for the regular kids and level 2 classes for the slow learners. This was the case starting in third grade at least.

    My problem with this scenario was that there was no encouragement for the slow students to better themselves.

    The argument I always use in favor of public education is that if even the Soviet Union, which made a hash of almost everything, was able to put together a decent public education system, then we should be able to as well.

  60. Seriously, Josh, most parents of severely and profoundly disabled kids are realistic about their children’s potential. They may dream of miracles but they know they’re in it for the gruelling long haul with their kids. Of course you do get the occasional nutcases a la Terri Schiavo’s parents.

    As far as the student with the cell phone, he knew the rules, deliberately violated them because he felt justified in doing so, and didn’t handle his frustration well. Appallingly badly by all accounts. But a ten-day suspension is overkill for a kid who’s struggling emotionally and academically. Surely school officials could come up with more effective consequences for the kid’s infractions.

  61. differentphil:

    If I ever have kids (a big if) and if I ever have to subject them to government education (a bigger if), you can be damn certain that I will make sure they have a way to get into contact with me at all times. If some bureaubot at the school has a problem with that, then they can kindly fuck off.

  62. If we lived in a truly Capitalist society, education, as well as all the other problems confounding us wouldn’t even exist.

    See, it’s claims like this that give libertarians a bad name (and deservedly so). It isn’t that capitalism solves all problems; it’s that it solves more than the present system, while causing fewer side effects. Take away my libertarian card if need be, but don’t make extravagant claims like that. Capitalism isn’t perfect; it’s just less bad than all the other systems out there.

    Today, kids are supposed to be educated in the least restrictive environment.

    What happens when that’s disruptive to the rest of the kids in the class? It’s all well and good to teach disabled children to be able to function in society; I’m all for it. But what if that means that average or above-average kids in the same class find it more difficult to learn?

    The notion that a kid who just wasn’t particularly “book smart” couldn’t earn a high-school diploma without his teacher cheating for him (and couldn’t enjoy poetry, or understand the social commentary in Frost’s verse) is contrary to my own anecdotal experience.

    Wow. Y’know, I’ve taken God knows how many literature classes, and I still don’t enjoy poetry. There are isolated poets whom I like and enjoy reading, but by and large poetry just doesn’t do it for me. Is it because my teachers just haven’t gotten through to me? Is it their fault for having failed to reach me? Or is it that I’m just the sort of person who likes prose better? I’ll let you decide.

    Analyzing poetry is one of those things that’s nice for a mechanic to have, but certainly not necessary. I think part of the problem is that a lot of kids who fifty years ago would have dropped out of high school to get started in the real world are now required to stay in and get their diploma, since almost every employer wants one nowadays. But the paradigm of teaching those kids hasn’t changed; it’s still the same old college-prep program, unless you’re lucky enough to have a vocational program at your school. Poetry analysis is necessary for a good liberal education, but most people neither need nor want a liberal education. I think Jennifer did the right thing here; the fault lies not with her, but with a system that requires this sort of thing from every student, no matter what their goals in life are.

  63. I think public schooling has created the false concept that a high school diploma is necessary for every reasonably good paying job. It’s just insuring that teachers will be needed in the future.

    Same thing is happening with college degrees. Most jobs in my compnay require degrees, yet the major isn’t important, only the piece of paper.

    It’s like a works program for people who want to think they are smart, but aren’t really, so they become teachers. It lets them live the “academic” life without being a true intellectual.

  64. How will students cheat without text-messaging? I’m sure they will think of a way that doesn’t involve repetitive stress injuries to thumbs.

  65. The real question here is why suspension is ever considered “punishment.” Ten days out of school sounds like a gift.

  66. SP-
    Because schools have strict rules stating that if you miss more than X days in a year you fail, regardless of your grades or whether or not you actually learned anything. A ten-day suspension could equal failure for the year, depending on the kid’s previous absences.

  67. If I don’t like my job, I can get another. If I don’t like my girlfriend, I can get another. If my car breaks down and won’t take me where I want to go, I can get a different one. I can buy a new house, get a warmer jacket when it’s cold outside, or move to a warmer climate. Don’t like strawberry jam? Try grape. Or apricot. Or peach. Or even grape-apricot-peach. I can change my hair color if the fancy strikes me. I can pursue nearly any option that might suit me better than what I have already.

    And then there’s public “education.” Hey, the school works for you? GREAT! But it doesn’t work for everyone. Not even close. And the few alternatives are even worse if you can’t afford to blow it off and attend a private school. Even worse than having to suffer through 12 interminable years of wasted time, now I’m forced to pay for the same system to torture the next generation of kids. All I wanted as a kid was the recognition that this pathetic “one size fits all” system doesn’t even fit many, and the option to follow a path that suits me better.

    To those of you who support public education, why is a choice too much to ask?

  68. Whoa, whoa, whoa. I was with Jennifer until she said this:

    “At my school it was soccer, not football, but yes, same thing. If a kid was vital to the team then woe unto any teacher who tried to fail him.”

    Now I think she’s making everything up. I refuse to believe that there’s an American public school where the soccer players are the cool jocks.

  69. Steve-
    Check out the part of Massachusetts where every damned family was from Portugal (or, as they pronounced it, Por-too-GAAAAHL). Hint: it’s a suburb of Springfield.

  70. I stand corrected. Here in California, we have wacky sports like water polo and volleyball, but the cool jocks are still always the football & basketball players.

  71. “I refuse to believe that there’s an American public school where the soccer players are the cool jocks.”

    Are you kidding? How long has it been since you were in high school? Even back in the late ’80s, when I graduated, the soccer guys were well established atop the social hierarchy. And that was in the Carolinas.

  72. Why not soccer? I mean, the jocks have to use their heads for SOMETHING, and it sure as hell isn’t thinking.

  73. I was on my high school soccer team in the late ’80s and trust me, we were not part of the “cool” set, except amongst ourselves. That was reserved solely for football and basketball players.

  74. When I lived in Germany in the 80s, there were several different “tracks”, ranging from 10 years of education for those destined to take up a trade, to 13 years for those destined for university. There didn’t seem to be any stigma attached to the trades like there is in America, nor was there any expectation that 100% of the students must attend college. We in America have truly fallen victim to the ideology that every child must perform identically. [Germany was moving in that direction when I left, by introducing so-called “Comprehensive Schools” for all students – so who knows, maybe they’ve ruined their educational system in the same way.]

  75. “To those of you who support public education, why is a choice too much to ask?”

    In some districts you can choose a vocational or arts high school, as an alternative to regular H.S. If that’s not offered where you live, then you should probably take it up with your local government.

    There is also homeschooling.

    I’m not sure, but probably there are private schools that offer scholarships.

    Not getting an education is not a choice. Children don’t have the maturity or wisdom to be entrusted with such choices, same as they can’t be entrusted to choose their diet (all cereal and candy bars?) I myself chose not to continue taking math in H.S. and now I deeply regret it. I wish it had been mandatory through all four years.

  76. BTW, I think the educrats learn to conversate like that in Ed School. They get orientated to a modality of professional stylization, vocabularization-wise.

    Actually, “conversate” is from the Ebonic dialect, FYI. Not that the education establishment doesn’t do its share of language-mangling. (I think this where we got the word “competency,” once defined as “an incompetent’s way of saying ‘competence'” and now rampant in the business/HR world.)

  77. I used to be a fervent supporter of public schools until I wasted three years of life teaching at one.

    I used to know a woman who was a public school teacher in Lodi, California. The experience transformed her into the first homeschoolers I ever heard of.

  78. Jennifer,

    Crimethink-
    So you’re saying that if one kid is forced to meet artificial sandards, all of them should?

    Yes. Is it so terribly turpitidinous to give the same grade to all students who achieve at the same level?

  79. Phil:

    You know, even being a free-marketer and a libertarian, I’m glad I’m not a moron like, say, [someone who overstated the case a bit] above. I’ll leave it to him to check into the average education levels in capitalist paradises like Somalia.

    I wouldn’t classify Somalia as a “capitalist paradise” but rather “a society that mostly functions much better than most Westerners would assume a governmentless region could.” It has serious problems, but I think most of those are due to being in poor fucked up, fucked-over Africa. I leave it to someone else to compare the equivalent of SAT scores in Somalia with those of other African nations.

    Or even during our own nation’s relatively unfettered period of capitalist heaven, like the 1890s. Yep, we were sure breeding a nation of super-geniuses then. Most of whom could barely read, but still. They were happy in their factory jobs at age 13, and isn’t that what really matters?

    You may be making unwarranted assumptions about the quality of educaton and literacy before and after the advent of compulsory education. For example, Massachusetts became the first state to force parents to send their children to school in 1850. At that time, the literacy rate in Massachusettes was 98%. A hundred and fifty years later, it was 91%.

    (Sorry for the Gunnel-chaining of posts, everybody — I just now had time to read this thread.)

  80. How will students cheat without text-messaging? I’m sure they will think of a way that doesn’t involve repetitive stress injuries to thumbs.

    A story from my dad, who in the late 1940s attended a Jesuit high school, Saint Louis University.

    There were two kids who always cheated on tests by sharing the answers with each other. Finally the Jesuit brother who taught the class separated them, putting one at the front of a row of desks, and the other at the back. Furthermore, when the brother gave the next test, he patrolled that row of desks, constantly walking from the back to the front and back again, to make sure the two trouble-makers didn’t pass any notes to each other via the other kids in the row.

    Both kids wound up with the same answers on the test, right and wrong, indicating they still found a way to cheat. The brother never found out how they communicated with each other.

    What they did: They used the brother to pass messsages to each other. As the brother walked by, one kid used a big (open) safety-pin to stick a note to the brother’s cassock (robe), and the other kid would pluck it off when the brother turned around at his end of the row. And so on.

    Allegedly a true story.

  81. Private tutoring or homeschooling is obviously the best way to get an education. Of course, most people can’t afford this, so what about semi-private tutoring? Is this viable? A teacher who has a class of about thirty kids could break the class up into three or four groups of tutoring sessions. Parents could then split the cost of the hourly sessions.

  82. Crimethink-
    Not if it’s a ridiculous level. I’m not the one who decided that EVERY STUDENT, regardless of academic level or future ambition, has to become proficient in poetry analysis if he wants to graduate and get on with his life. I worked hard to bolster Jim’s skills, and by the end of the year he could at least write a decent resume and letter of application to a job. The fact that Jim and others like him got to leave school and be mechanics without first learning Robert Frost isn’t what soured me on the school experience; it’s the fact that the kids who supposedly WILL need these more advanced skills, the ones going on to advanced universities and such, are in theory supposed to have the skills to graduate, but in practice teachers couldn’t hold the standards so high that a student might fail to meet them, or else the parents would complain. The standards are impossibly high for the Jims of the world, yet impossibly low for anyone who wants to do any sort of job requiring intellectual ability or specialized knowledge.

    Hell, I’m a very intelligent person, and you could say that I’ve gone on to become a productive, happy adult, but if high schools decided that ALL students had to be proficient in calculus before they could graduate I’d probably still be trying for my diploma, despite the fact that for my ambitions and skills I’ve never needed calculus. If that happened, I’d hope that I would at least have a calculus teacher who would understand that being a martinet and holding me back until I COULD become a mathematician would hurt me AND hurt society at large (since 34-year-old high school students can’t support themselves, can’t pay much in taxes and probably would develop SERIOUS attitude problems that might be acted out in criminal ways).

  83. Short version of my last post: in theory, at least, the original purpose of curriculum standards was to ensure that students get the education necessary to meet their goals in life. However, if the standards instead IMPEDE students’ ability to meet their life goal, then the standards are wrong and should be ignored if necessary.

    As Grylliade pointed out, modern high-school curricula cling to the fiction that ALL students will go to college and then get a white-collar job, but that simply is not the case.

  84. “if high schools decided that ALL students had to be proficient in calculus before they could graduate I’d probably still be trying for my diploma, despite the fact that for my ambitions and skills I’ve never needed calculus.”

    See, this is my problem as I outlined in one of my above posts. My high school allowed me to stop taking math before we got to calculus. I hated math and opted out of it. Now I regret it, not because calculus would come in useful in my current profession, but because I want to understand as much about the world as possible.

    IOW, as a teenager I was not competent to make decisions about my own future.

  85. Mark-
    What gives you the idea that, since you’re finished with formal education, you can no longer learn anything new? There’s nothing stopping you from learning calculus on your own, if you choose; hell, for the past few weeks I’ve been teaching myself to read French, and while I hope to one day be fluent I am VERY glad that this was not a prerequisite for me to leave school and get a job, else I would have wasted a lot of time and missed out on the chance to earn a lot of money.

    Whether it’s poetry analysis for Jim, or calculus for you and me, the schools have no business telling students that luxury skills are to be REQUIRED before they can be allowed to get a decent job.

  86. Also, Mark, if learning calculus ON YOUR OWN is too difficult, there’s nothing stopping you from enrolling in Adult Ed, or taking one course at your local university. At your age you are more than capable of filling in any perceived gaps in your knowledge, rather than playing the blame game and saying “I don’t know this because I was never REQUIRED to know it!”

  87. Jennifer,

    Interesting you should mention this. Just yesterday, for the first time, I saw a book on “Calculus for Dummies”. Until that time I had no idea that there were options for people like me to pick up this knowledge in the ways you describe. Adult Ed classes that I’ve seen tend to be of the basketweaving/Italian cooking variety.Math just doesn’t seem to be one of those things that people try to pick up later in life (unlike foreign languages, etc.)

    The other problem, of course, is that we have less time for these things as we get older. I’m teaching myself to play piano, in addition to several other activities of a creative nature, in what little spare time I have. It’s during childhood and adolescence, when we have more free time and our minds are more supple, that these things can best be learned.

    I should also mention that I am Russian by origin, and have grown up with the cultural belief that a person who is not well-educated has no cause for self-respect.

  88. Mark-
    If more people had that cultural attitude, our country would be in better shape. I’m doing my French lessons the same way I learned to read English–start with simplistic children’s books and work my way up. So far, in addition to a few “Teach Yourself French” books, I have “The Cat in the Hat Picture Dictionary in English and French,” and in Montreal last week I picked up a few copies of “Calvin et Hobbes.” I have less free time than I did as a kid, but more motivation to learn.

    If there are no decent Adult Ed courses available where you are, you can audit a course at a university.

    And in case you were wondering, the way to say “Eeew” in French is “Beeerk.”

  89. Jennifer, you said that the “original purpose of curriculum standards was to ensure that students get the education necessary to meet their goals in life.” Is that really true? I’d say that the purpose of curriculum standards is for schools to certify that graduates had certain specific skills and knowledge, so that a diploma is theoretically meaningful for anyone such as an employer or other educational institution who might care about such things. It seems to me that ducational standards wouldn’t be called standards if they were individual to each student’s life goals, because they would vary so widely as to be meaningless.

    And good luck with the French study, by the way. It’s a tough way to go for language learning, but I had great success at it with Italian.

  90. Serafina-
    Obviously we never had a system custom-tailored to each individual student’s needs, but the current situation has the same set of standards for ALL students, though these standards are useful for NONE. There used to be level-tracking, and choices like Voc Ed or Technical Training, but now that’s gone. At my old school, in theory, EVERY SINGLE STUDENT was to go on to a white-collar field; if a kid wanted to grow up to be a mechanic or a plumber or any useful blue-collar job, tough luck for him.

    So whether the curriculum was to help students meet a certain goal, or certify to employers that they had certain skills–well, I think they’re kind of the same, really. You desire Job X; employer X wants you to have certain skills; the diploma demonstrates you have the skills and helps you get the job. But not anymore.

    I was an English major, and I like classical poetry, but I STILL can’t think of a compelling reason why everybody in America should be required to know how to Appreciate Poetry before going on to find a job. I am also STILL pissed off about the fact that I was, for awhile, afraid I might fail because I was required by law to take Algebra II. I graduated high school 16 years ago and, despite what my teacher said, I have YET to use any of that crap in my life. And unlike Mark Borok, I have no desire to learn, either.

    Thanks for the support on my French endeavors. I have some French translations of Simpsons cartoons, but after trying to watch one last night I see I have a LOOOONG way to go yet.

  91. Cynical li’l me has always been convinced that mandatory universal schooling, preferably in state schools, was, from the time of Horace Mann, about socializing the children of the immigrant hordes. If the spawn of the unwashed masses were educated at home or by their papist masters they would never assimilate into good, Protestant Americans.

    Artificially removing millions of kids from the labor market for a few years was another motivation for expanding the schools to the K-12 format.

    Kevin

  92. Thanks for the clarification, Jennifer.

    I quit school when I was sixteen and haven’t voluntarily set foot inside a high school since then, but somehow it’s an interesting public policy area.

    By the way Barnes & Noble University offers a free online beginning French course starting in early June.

  93. Jennifer –

    Actually, I believe the French for “eww” is “Beurk”.

    Asterix and Tintin are always good for learning French.

  94. Mark-
    I’ve seen “Berk” and “Beurk” in my Calvin et Hobbes books; “beurk” in the cartoon where Calvin says, in English, “Ew, look at the spider suck out that bug’s juices!” and “Berk, beerk, beeeerk, beeeeeerk!” in the cartoon where he sees a mud puddle and uses progressively longer “Eews” as he goes to play in it.

    Thanks for the link, Serafina; I’ll definitely have to check it out. So far my French vocabulary is limited to phrases like “Calvin is a chowderhead” and “Hobbes is the best,” which really aren’t too useful. Also, thank to the Cat in the Hat, I know how to say “Aunt Ada has an alligator.”

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